Arts and Entertainment | Arts and Entertainment Columns

Found in Translation: Explaining ‘Vagina Monologues’ to the parents

I come from a country that is generally conservative about sex and sexuality.

By that, I mean that it is a country where “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was banned until 2003, where nearly 50 percent of the population thinks premarital sex is downright wrong, and where sex between mutually consenting adult men can be punished with imprisonment.

It came as no surprise to me, then, that when I told my parents that I’m performing in a play called “The Vagina Monologues,” they reacted with perplexity and dismay.

“The what monologues?”

“Vagina.”

“What?”

“The Vagina Monologues.”

“Wait—you mean it’s about sex?”

“Only some parts of it,” I replied. The play comprises an utterly unabashed series of vignettes about female sex and sexuality. This means it is very much about sex, but also about a myriad of other issues—masturbation, gender, rape, relationships, and, of course, vaginas. It’s wonderfully hilarious, which helps people become more comfortable about this subject, but also movingly real. 

But my parents, being parents, naturally zoomed in on the fact that it is explicit. I don’t blame them—it is not every day your daughter starts talking about vaginas, after all, let alone tells you she’s going to be talking about them onstage without any shame.

I cannot exactly recall the whole conversation we had, but I remember my parents proceeding to drop words like “values,” “appropriateness,” “controversy,” and “conforming to a liberal culture.” I electronically retorted with a respectful but lengthy text about the role of art, the need for conversation about sexuality, and the positive female-empowering aspects of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Fortunately, I succeeded in calming them down. But frankly, what I really wanted to do in the moment was rail, with raging capital letters, against what I perceived to be prejudices and narrow-mindedness.

Despite my frustration, however, I’ve learned to be patient with my parents. It is, after all, difficult for people to free themselves from prejudices, especially if they have been fermenting in a society’s culture for years. And parenting is a hard task—as it is, letting me wander off into a more liberal city is frightening. It’s only natural for them to start catastrophizing about my sex life because I’ve started throwing the word “vagina” around in conversation.

But this is why I think “The Vagina Monologues” is so important, and something I’m very proud to be a part of. If you ask me, “monologues” is a misnomer. The controversy around it challenges beliefs and attitudes, encourages dialogue, and allows for silenced voices to be heard. It does not fall into the trap of pushing a single perspective, but simply lets the audience listen and make decisions for themselves.

So, as frightening and frustrating as it was, I don’t regret telling my parents about my involvement in this play. Besides, it was at least vaguely entertaining to watch my parents flinch, frown, and chide me on my laptop screen as I described the raunchy details of the play over Skype.

Actually, if they were here, I’d probably make them watch it. The conversation after wouldn’t be pretty, but if they spent the show squirming in their seats, I think it’d be worth it.

Joanna Lee is a first-year in Columbia College from Singapore. Found in Translation runs alternate Fridays.

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